Ebenezer Baptist Church Senior Pastor Raphael Warnock speaks about record restrictions Monday at the church, while other supporters, including Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard (left) look on. ARIELLE KASS/AKASS@AJC.COM

Record restriction bill stalls; Georgia Governor Deal’s help sought

A proposal that would let people convicted of some misdemeanors and felonies in Georgia restrict access to their records wasn’t gaining steam in the state legislature. So proponents are calling on the governor to help them push it through.

The bill, HB 981, didn’t make it to a vote in the House before Crossover Day. But Paul Howard, the Fulton County district attorney, said proponents plan to attach it to SB 99, a bill that stalled last year but that had crossed over.

After holding a press conference Monday afternoon at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church to plead for the bill’s consideration, Howard and others delivered a letter to Gov. Nathan Deal asking him to meet with them.

“Governor, your achievements in the area of criminal justice reform could only be described as cutting edge and groundbreaking,” the letter said, in making the plea.

Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor at Ebenezer, said the proposed legislation could help people get access to better jobs and housing, if they are not required to say they have been convicted of a crime.

“No one wants to be judged for the rest of their life by the dumbest thing they’ve ever done in their life,” he said.

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Fulton County has been holding record restrictions summits for more than a year, and thousands of people have come to get their records restricted if they have been arrested, but not convicted. The new proposal would expand the abilities of people with criminal records to get those records sealed.

People who have been convicted of nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors, and who have not been arrested for anything other than minor traffic offenses for five years, would be eligible to seal the records of one felony and three misdemeanors, according to the proposal.

Sex crimes, burglary involving a firearm and offenses related to minors are among those that could not be restricted. A petition to restrict and seal records would have to be filed in the same court the conviction occurred in and a judge would weigh the harm caused to the individual by having the record accessible over the public’s right to know about the person’s criminal history.

A spokesperson for the Georgia First Amendment Foundation said in a statement than they are concerned by the broadness of the expansion.

“If enacted, this legislation would potentially prevent the public from being able to learn about the criminal history of individuals found guilty of serious wrongdoing who have served time in prison, ” the statement said. “The public rightfully assumes criminal records cannot be erased, except in extraordinary circumstances. This legislation would make it much more routine. The bill needs much more discussion and debate before it is considered by the General Assembly.”

Those whose records are restricted would no longer have to say they were arrested or convicted of a crime if asked on an application, or elsewhere. But there are some exceptions, including people who are applying for jobs at criminal justice agencies, looking to get a professional license or work in a fiduciary position, or work at any school or other groups that work with children.

“Giving people a second chance means looking intelligently, in a holistic way,” Fulton County Solicitor General Keith Gammage said. “What I’ve seen is folks truly attempting to improve their lives.”

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The AJC's Arielle Kass keeps you updated on the latest happenings in Fulton County government and politics. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

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